College basketball has long been a breeding ground for NBA talent, though over the years, the pro game has split off on its own evolutionary track.
This does not, however, mean that college basketball can’t continue to evolve in ways that benefit its synergy with pro basketball. And at its annual meeting, the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel made some changes to the game.
In Division I, those changes will take effect at the start of the 2019-20 season, though the lower divisions of the sport will have to wait until the 2020-21 season.
Most notably, the 3-point line, which is currently 20 feet, 9 inches from the basket, will be moved back to the international distance of 22 feet and 1.75 inches away.
“After gathering information over the last two seasons, we feel it’s time to make the change,” the committee’s chairperson, Colorado coach Tad Boyle, said last month when the change was proposed, according to ESPN.
“Freedom of movement in the game remains important, and we feel this will open up the game. We believe this will remove some of the congestion on the way to the basket.”
It’s not the first time the NCAA has moved the 3-point line back since universally implementing the arc in 1986.
Three-pointers started at 19 feet, 9 inches, the same length as still exists in most high school basketball jurisdictions. It was moved to 20 feet, 9 inches for the 2008-09 season.
The committee claims the longer 3-point distance “will clear the lane for more drives to the rim,” ESPN reported, while at the same time making the 3-point shot more difficult and therefore discouraging its overuse.
The committee also approved a change similar to one the NBA recently adopted involving the shot clock after offensive rebounds.
Starting in the 2018-19 season, a new rule changed the NBA’s shot clock reset on offensive rebounds from 24 seconds to just 14 seconds. The college game is making the same 10-second time reduction, dropping its shot clock from 30 seconds to 20 following an offensive board.
Three other rule changes were also implemented at the meeting.
First, referees will be instructed to call a technical foul when a player uses language disparaging another player’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability. This ensures referees can no longer let certain types of insults slide, and essentially removes guesswork from the equation.
Second, coaches are now allowed to call live-ball timeouts in the last two minutes of regulation and in overtime; they used to have to wait for a stoppage in play or have their team commit a foul.
Finally, replay has been added for goaltending or basket-interference calls in the last two minutes of regulation and in overtime.
All this is certainly a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t solve a fundamental problem that college basketball faces, which is that its biggest marketable purposes — providing a preview for NBA draft scouts and preparation for the pro game — continue to be enormous failures.
Players with the NBA on their minds don’t develop when the game they’re playing in college is so different from the pro game in terms of rules and style of play that it may as well be a completely different sport.
And NBA teams often find that the draft can be an absolute crapshoot because they can’t evaluate how well college players will stack up in the NBA.
From a statistical point of view, what use is a 22-foot 3-pointer when it would just be a long two in the pros? How well can a player’s ability to play up-tempo be evaluated when there are 30 seconds rather than 24 on the shot clock?
As the NBA edges toward a baseball-like minor league system, we seem to be moving closer to a basketball universe that doesn’t need college ball at all, the same way MLB effectively killed college baseball when former Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey invented the modern farm system.
A player coming right out of high school, even if he isn’t NBA-ready, can play professional G-League ball (and be paid to do so), learn pro sets and pro offenses, take 3-point shots from 23 feet, 9 inches away (standard NBA distance) from the basket, work within the constraints of a 24-second shot clock, and otherwise get apples-to-apples job training in his chosen profession.
Why would he choose college instead?
The NCAA is going about this all wrong. If it wants to continue to exist as a big-time enterprise and a talent pipeline for the NBA, it needs to stop dancing around the issue and more fully adopt NBA rules.
If not, college basketball will go the way of college baseball, which still exists, but is nowhere near the size and scope of its roundball counterpart.
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